Military forces had been using hot air balloons for observation
purposes since first used by the French Army in 1794, and Australian
servicemen first saw military balloons in action in the Sudan Campaign
of the Boer War in 1885 used by the Royal Engineers of the British Army.
The first operation of a military balloon in Australia occurred
when a detachment of the Royal Engineers Balloon section visited
Australia as part of Federation Celebrations and flew at the Naval and
Military Sports held at the Sydney Agricultural Grounds on 7 - 8 January
The successful flight
of the Wright Brothers’ aircraft in 1903 was largely un-noticed at the
time, they carried on their experiments for the next two years and in
1905 they made an offer to build a machine for the United States Army,
which was declined. On 23 October 1906, Brazilian Alberto Santos-Dumont
become the first to fly in France, and in Europe, causing a sensation
and capturing the imagination of the public and world's press, and
stimulating world wide interest, including Military interest as "Flying
Machines" offered more mobility and range to observe troop and gun
The United States Signal Corps submitted a specification for a
"military aircraft" in 1907, and the Wrights supplied such an
aircraft in 1908, and on 16 October 1908 Colonel Samuel Cody flew the
first powered flight in the United Kingdom in the "British Army
In April 1909 the Aerial League
of Australia was formed in Sydney with members including George Taylor,
Lawrence Hargrave and Major Charles Rosenthal, branches were soon
formed in Victoria and Queensland, and a landing ground developed in
Penrith for use by its members was established in September 1910. The
Aerial League lobbied the Government for a "competition" for
Military aircraft, and its aim was to get the government to establish a
military flight in two sections, an aviation school and an aviation
corps both under the Defence Department.
On 25 July 1909, Frenchman Louis Bleriot flew across the English Chanel
in a monoplane of his own design, and the flight from Les Barraques,
France, to Dover, England, earned him the £1000 prize that the London
Daily Mail had offered to the first aviator to cross the Channel in
The significance of Louis Bleriot's successful 37-minute flight over the
English Channel could be measured not only by his "immense
acclaim" upon landing in Dover but also by the impact on political
figures, military commanders, and planners. They came to the startling
realization that Britain was susceptible to enemy attack by other than
water. The nation had a strong navy and could face attack from the
sea--not from the air. Politicians saw that Britain was not prepared for
this new transportation system and its new technology. David Lloyd
George, chancellor of the Exchequer, said, "Flying machines are no
longer toys and dreams, they are established fact. The possibilities of
this new system of locomotion are infinite. I feel, as a Britisher,
rather ashamed that we are so completely out of it."
The British Empire called an Imperial
Conference in London in 1909, concerned with the recent build up of
German military forces and the risk of war in Europe, while Pacific
concerns had been raised by the Japanese Imperial Navy's annilation of
the Russian Baltic Fleet in 1905.
On his return from the Conference, Senator George Pearce, Minister for
Defence on 1 September 1909 approved requirements for a competition for
the best and most suitable aeroplane for military purposes, with a prize
of ₤5,000 offered.
The requirements were comprehensive and optimistically advanced:
rise under its own power and without the aid of
any starting gear.
to land without damage.
attain a speed of not less than 20 mph.
sufficient fuel to remain in action for 5 hours.
capable of "poising" or remaining over a given area.
least two people had to be carried, with one available to take
able to carry a load of not less than 350 lb.
as far as possible to be obtained in Australia, and the inventor had
to be Australian or British.
closing date was listed as 31 March 1910, but was extended to 30 June
The Military competition stimulated
great "flying" activity in Australia, although many efforts
were not able to comply with the requirements laid down.
In September 1909 George Taylor established Australia's first "aeroplane
factory" and commenced assembly of 8 war kites and one large
aeroplane, and in December 1909 George Taylor achieved Australia's first
heavier than air flight in a glider, and numerous attempted pioneer
powered flights occurred with imported aircraft including Colin Defries
in December 1909, Custance, Wittber and Banks in March 1910 and Enrich
Weiss, better known as Harry Houdini, achieved the first controlled
powered flight in Australia on 18 March 1910, however none of these
Although too late for the competition, on 16 July 1910 the first
Australian designed and built aircraft successfully flew under the
control of its builder, John Duigan, however he had not entered the
competition as he took the requirement to "poise" to mean the
aircraft could hover or remain still in one place.
In late 1910 two oversea's manufacturer's despatched aircraft and
crews to Australia to promote their products to the Government and
Military. Gaston Cugnet was sent from France by Bleriot for the
possibility of establishing a permanent aviation business in Australia,
and undertook his first flight, for a duration of 7 minutes and reaching
a height of 200 feet, at Altona in Victoria on 15 November 1910,
and on 26 November acting Prime Minister Billy Hughes attended Altona
Bay to inspect the aircraft and christened it
J. J. Hammond, employed by the British and Colonial Aeroplane
Co.(Bristol), accompanied two Bristol Box Kites to Australia, arrived in
Australia on 13 December 1910 giving demonstration flights in Perth,
Melbourne and Sydney.
In January 1911 the Australian Military Board considered plans given to
Senator Pearce from Charles Lindsay-Campbell of the Aerial League of
Australia advocating that Australian aviators and Mechanics be sent to
Britain and the continent for training and on their return form the
nucleus of a Commonwealth School of Aviation and an Australian Aviation
Corps, however the board recommended no action as the British Army had
not yet selected any aircraft, and that Senator Pearce would be soon
visiting England and be able to consult with British War Office experts.
Hammond undertook his first Victorian flight at Altona Bay on 18
February 1911 for 31 minutes and up to a height of 3000 feet, and during
that month Major C H Foott from Victoria Barracks was instructed by the
Australian Chief of the General Staff, Brigardier General J M Gordon, to
witness trials of the aircraft at Altona Bay. Foott reported favourably
on the boxkite and suggested the acquisition of four flying machines and
eight trained aviators and ten mechanics, however the Board again
recommended no action.
Hammond commenced demonstration flights in Sydney in April and on 3 May
1911 Hammond flew Captain Niesigh from Ascot Racecourse in Sydney to
Liverpool Military Camp 22 miles away, at the camp Lt Colonel Antill was
taken by Hammond on an observation flight of the camp, and the flights
were witnessed by Governor General Lord Dudley, who was in camp at the
Hammond resigned to return to England on 5 May, and on 6 May 1911, his
assistant Leslie McDonald took Daily Telegraph photographer W Kimbell on
a 25 minute flight over Sydney to undertake the first Aerial Photography
in Australia, and amongst the features photographed was the fortified
Bare Island. Army authorities were greatly concerned by this and
prohibited their use in the newspaper, but as a result of this
development on 9 May 1911 McDonald took Brigardier General Gordon on a
In England Lt Arthur Longmore of the Royal Navy, born
at St Leonards NSW, became the first Australian to formally learn to
fly, gaining licence No. 72 on 25 April 1911, and later Eric Harrison of
Castlemaine Victoria became the third Australian in England to obtain a
licence receiving No. 131 on 1 September 1911,
At an Imperial Conference in London in 1911 it was decided aviation
would be developed within the armed forces of the British Empire,
Australia implemented this decision, the only Dominion to do so.
Senator Pearce returned to Australia convinced that an Air arm was an
urgent requirement, Military Air Services were being established in
Britain, America, France and Germany and some thought was being given to
aircraft not only being used for observation and spotting but also being
fitted with guns and bombs, he was successful in securing political and
financial support for the creation of a flying school.
On 30 December 1911 the Commonwealth Gazette called for the
"Appointment of two competent Mechanists and Aviators", the
announcement added that "The Commonwealth Government will accept no
liability for accidents".
The Gazette created widespread interest with many applications received,
eventually Henry Petre and Eric Harrison were selected as pilots, and
four mechanics R Chester, G Fonteneau, C Heath and A Shorland were also
Petre was engaged on 6 August 1912, to become Australia's first military
aviator, on 11 September the Military Board considered a further
"Proposal submitted by the Chief of the General Staff for the
Formation of a Flying School and Corps", five days later Eric
Harrison was engaged, and on 20 September the Minister for Defence
approved the submission of the Chief of the General Staff.
Army order 132/12 had officially established a flight comprising of four
officers, seven warrant officers and sergeants and 32 mechanics for the
flying training school.
On 22 October 1912, Military Order No. 570 stated that "Approval
has been granted for the formation of a Flying Corps in Australia",
and orders had been placed in England on 3 July 1912 for the first
"Flying Machines", consisting of two Royal Aircraft Factory
BE2a two seat tractor biplanes and two British built Deperdussin single
seat tractor monoplanes. In December 1912 a fifth order was placed for
an Elementary training biplane, a pusher type Bristol Boxkite, similar
to that demonstrated by J J Hammond, all of these aircraft were ordered
through the British and Colonial Aeroplane Co.
Recruiting was to begin on 1 January 1913, and on Petre's arrival
in January he was given the charter of establishing the new flying
school. Early in 1912 Captain Oswald Watt had inspected a number of
possible landing areas and submitted a report recommending that the
school should be situated near the Royal Military College, at Duntroon
in Canberra, however when Petre inspected the proposed 640 Acre site he
declared that the terrain, at 1600 feet, was too high and that the
surrounding area was isolated and hilly creating a danger to safe
flying. He reported that the best areas were in the Melbourne area and
submitted reports on Langwarren, Cribb Point, Western Port and Altona
Eventually 734 Acres of grazing land were purchased near Werribee at
Point Cook, named after John Cooke a mate aboard the HMS Rattlesnake
that undertook surveys in the area in 1836, Point Cook offered flat
cleared land, with frontage to the bay for future seaplane operations..
On March 7, 1913 the Government announced the formation of the Central
Flying School and Aviation Corps at Point Cook, and it became the
birthplace of Australian Military Aviation.
In July 1913 orders were issued to
transfer the Bristol Boxkite and both Deperdussins from storage in
Sydney to the newly established camp at Point Cook and throughout the
remainder of 1913, aircraft were assembled, and hangars tents and
buildings erected at the site, the two BE-2a aircraft arrived in
Australia on 3 February 1914.
On Sunday morning 1 March 1914, Captain Eric Harrison took off from Point Cook
in Bristol Boxkite CFS-3, the first flight of an Australian Military
aircraft, and on 9 March Captain Henry Petre suffered the first crash, in Deperdussin
Later on 17 August 1914, the first Central Flying School course
commenced at Point Cook, just thirteen days after the declaration of
war, and commencement of World War One. Among the four trainees on that
course was Army Lieutenant R Williams (Licence No.
1024, 12 November 1914), who graduated as the first
trainee to learn to fly at Point Cook, and who as Air Marshal Sir
Richard Williams went on to become the first Chief of the Air Staff, and
become known as the "father of the RAAF".
The other trainees were Captain T White (No. 1025, 14 November 1914),
Lieutenant G Merz (No. 1026, 14 November 1914) and Lieutenant D Manwell
(No. 1027, 16 November 1914).
Sadly Lieutenant Mertz became the first
Australian Airman to be lost in combat on 30 July 1915, when he
experienced engine failure and was killed in ground fighting when
serving with the Mesopotamia Half Flight in what is now Iraq.
(Tommy) White, was later captured as an Airman during WW1 by the Turks
and then escaped, and later became a Federal Government Minister.
However he is best
remembered for his crash of one of the Bristol Boxkites into the top of
the door on the Point Cook Hangar during his training, with the dent still clearly visable